Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

Stage & Studio: A look back on 2023

In her newest podcast, Dmae Lo Roberts talks with ArtsWatch's Bob Hicks about the cultural highs and lows of 2023, and the lingering effects of the pandemic on the arts.


“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” at Oregon Children’s Theatre this Spring. Photo: Dmae Lo Roberts.

As we close 2023, we reflect on the state of the arts in Oregon. This was a year in which many theater companies in Portland went back to a reduced season of plays or delayed their season openings. Dance, opera, and concerts were in full swing too. There were also shifts of artistic directors, particularly BIPOC A.D.s who had short stints in Portland, largely due to a shaky economic future for companies. It was also a year that one of the most steadfast grants organizations, the Regional Arts and Culture Council, supporting countless artists through more than three decades, was left with a majority of its funding base withdrawn by the City of Portland.

2023: A Year in Review

For Stage and Studio, this year also brought a new host, Jenna Yokoyama, who I invited to share podcast episodes with. She has brought wonderfully produced and vibrant interviews from the Japanese American Museum of Oregon and Renegade Opera. This was also the year Dmae Lo Roberts debuted her docuseries on youth mental health, The –Ism Youth Files, on ArtsWatch.


And in 2023, we lost artists who are no longer with us and must be remembered such as the poet Walt Curtis; director Michael Griggs; artist Henk Pander; Tom Webb, director of Newport Visual Arts Center; the legendary drag artist Darcelle (Walter Cole) and many more.

And through it all, the big question for most arts organizations and artists was, “Are we done with the pandemic?”

Join Senior Editor Bob Hicks and Roberts for this review of 2023 and the arts that happened.

Subscribe and listen to Stage & Studio on: AppleGoogleSpotify, Android and Sticher. Hear past shows on Stage & Studio website. Theme music: Clark Salisbury.

On RACC’s loss of City Funding: “RACC has always supported those large groups, but RACC has also made a concerted effort to help groups that are not in the city proper and to help a lot of neighborhood groups and … a much more diverse group of artists. They’ve thought small and big, and it’s very possible that the city will do the same thing. But the fear I hear from a lot of artists is that diversity is going to be less well taken care of.”

Companies experimenting with sliding scale tickets: “I think it is really important in a lot of ways because it encourages younger people who don’t have a lot of money to come and see the theater, and you’re building perhaps a lasting audience that way.”

The sheer amount of art in Oregon: Given that there’s so little funding for it, it’s just amazing how prolific people are and how imaginative. … Wherever you have people, you have art.”


The art of writing obituaries: “I started off as a very young journalist being assigned to do obituaries a couple of times and it scared me. I don’t want to impose on people’s sorrow, and I found out doing some of them that for the most part, the families want the stories told. It’s a way to take your loss and make it into something that’s good for everybody.”

Join ArtsWatch for more year-end recaps, reviews and a full memoriam.



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Photo Joe Cantrell

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody winning radio producer, writer and theatre artist. Her work is often autobiographical and cross-cultural and informed by her biracial identity. Her Peabody award-winning documentary Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during WWII. She adapted this radio documentary into a film. She won a second Peabody-award for her eight-hour Crossing East documentary, the first Asian American history series on public radio. She received the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Civil Rights and Social Justice award from the Asian American Journalists Association and was selected as a United States Artists (USA) Fellow. Her stage plays and essays have been published in numerous publications. She published her memoir The Letting Go Trilogies: Stories of a Mixed-Race Family in 2016. As a theatre artist, she has won two Drammys, one for her acting and one for her play Picasso In The Back Seat which also won the Oregon Book Award. Her plays have been produced in Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, NYC and Florida. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit multicultural production organization and co-founder of Theatre Diaspora, an Asian American/Pacific Islander non-profit theatre that started as a project of MediaRites. She created the Crossing East Archive of more than 200 hours of broadcast-quality, pan-AAPI interviews and oral histories. For 23 years, Roberts volunteered to host and produce Stage & Studio live on KBOO radio. In 2009, she started the podcast on StagenStudio.com, which continues at ArtsWatch.

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